Non-profits Air Flurry of Ads in Days Before Primaries

More than 60 percent comes from non-profits that don't have to identify donors.

ByABC News
June 7, 2010, 9:03 AM

June 7, 2010 -- Outside political groups have spent $8.4 million in advertising in the final days before primaries or special elections this year, a USA TODAY analysis shows. More than 60 percent of the money comes from non-profits that do not have to identify their donors.

Americans for Job Security, a Virginia-based non-profit, has spent the most, pumping nearly $2.4 million into such ads this year, federal records show. The lion's share — $1.5 million — has flowed to Arkansas, where Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter face off in a hotly contested Democratic primary runoff Tuesday.

The group, which describes itself as having a "pro-market, pro-paycheck message," has run controversial TV spots attacking Halter as acting against U.S. business interests by serving on the board of a company that the group claims outsourced jobs to India. As a non-profit, the group does not disclose its donors.

Halter, who called the ad an "outright fabrication," has complained to the Federal Election Commission. "Voters in Arkansas need to know who's coming in here to try and buy an election," he told USA TODAY.

So far, federal regulators have not taken action, and Americans for Job Security's president, Stephen DeMaura, said the group is within its rights to highlight Halter's record in its advertising.

"It's not uncommon for politicians to attack the messenger," said DeMaura, a former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

The spending comes as overall political advertising surges.

In all, candidates, political parties and outside groups spent $40 million on TV ads targeting federal races between Jan. 1 and the end of May, data compiled by Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group shows. That's a 60 percent increase over the $16 million spent on TV commercials during the same period in 2006, the last midterm election for Congress.

Campaign-finance watchdogs, such as Public Citizen's Craig Holman, say spending could jump even higher under a Supreme Court ruling in January that opened the door to unlimited corporate and union money for independent ads.

"Even though there are more TV ads hitting the airwaves, we don't know where the money is coming from in most cases," Holman said. "It's a disastrous trend we are running into as we head into the 2010 general election."